After what must be over 18 years I visited the Natural History Museum in London yesterday. In this article I give my laid back review of what I saw, what dinosaur exhibits I thought were brilliant and those that I felt could be improved upon further.
In my previous article I noted that I would be writing a laid back article focusing on an exciting museum visit. That museum visit was to the Natural History Museum in London yesterday on the 17th of November. This article will delve into my thoughts about the dinosaur exhibits, what I saw and what I feel could be improved upon further. This article will be quite different to my previous articles, being more of a review then anything. I will also be keeping references out of this article as it’s generally my thoughts and impressions on the exhibits themselves. I was really looking forward to this museum visit and it didn’t disappoint. So let’s begin!
The Museum Architecture
The Natural History Museum is one of my favourite museums and it has been a very long time since I last visited it. I can’t really remember the year I last visited the place, it must have been around early 2000s. So a very long time ago, some exhibits have changed and others have stayed the same. I will get on to these later in the article.
As everyone probably knows the museums architecture is absolutely stunning and that was the first thing that hit me about the place. Not just the outside of the museum which looks spectacular but the inside as well. The walls, ceilings, staircase all look brand new and cleaned which always gives a good starting impression.
The First Dinosaur You See
The dinosaur exhibits were of course what I came for and these didn’t disappoint. The first dinosaur that I saw was this one pictured below of Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis a Iguanodontian dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous. This specimen is displayed very clearly, in a really good location on the right hand side of Hintze Hall. Being able to get up close to this skeleton was a fantastic experience and I got some really great photos as a result. It is a very welcoming exhibit and there were many families gathered around it all throughout the day.
The Dinosaur Exhibits
Pretty much all the other dinosaurs were located in the Blue Zone. I remembered most of the layout from my last visit but was disappointed to see that on walking around the dinosaur area the upper walkway was closed, which was unfortunate as in the past it has been open. You could get much better photographs of the dinosaur fossils and skeletons higher up, as the dinosaurs are suspended and fixed around the walkway.
A lot of the dinosaur skeletons also seemed to be fairly new specimens of which I can’t remember seeing. The Stegosaurus specimen for example outside the Earth Hall is a welcome addition (it went on display in 2014). It was also great to see the amount of dinosaur diversity in the dinosaur zone. The museum features many different dinosaurs these included: Gallimimus, Euoplocephalus, Edmontosaurus (E. annectens and E. regalis were both on display, E.regalis is one of my favourite Hadrosaurs so it was great to see a specimen of it on display). Coelophysis, Parasaurolophus and Pachycephalosaurus were also on display, as well as many others.
When visiting the museum I figured I would try and guess each dinosaur before seeing the information boards with the names on, I managed to get 15 right in total which I thought was pretty good. The museum is packed with dinosaur fossils and skeletons and is a must for anyone interested in palaeontology to visit.
As a aspiring palaeontologist one of the things I always like to see in museums is accurate interpretation of dinosaurs, interactive engagement and updated models and animatronics.
I was pleasantly surprised by how interactive engagement has been integrated within the dinosaur section (and the rest of the museum) with TV screens, touchable information boards/touch screens being implemented. Getting children and families engaged easily with palaeontology is such an important thing and I was very happy to see that the museum has these types of technologies. I was also happy to see that there were new models focusing on dinosaur movement, showing models with bones/muscle exposed helping visitors to understand how dinosaurs moved.
I also noticed that the viewing area for the Tyrannosaurus Rex animatronic had also been changed slightly. When I last visited the museum over 18 years ago you had to walk over a walkway to see it from above. Now though you just walk around a corner in the dinosaur zone and it is straight ahead of you. You can get quite close up to it as well which is even better to be able to see it properly, enabling some great photo opportunities.
Relying too much on the past
I was confused I have to admit, to see that some of the exhibits at the Natural History Museum haven’t been updated in over 18 years. I know the Museum relies on donations, patron donations, as well as grants for funds. But I was quite shocked that some models were ones I saw years ago, clearly from the 90s and should have been updated a long time ago. The Triceratops skeleton clearly had a small Triceratops model from pre 90s next to it and to me it was very disappointing. With the constant changes in palaeontology I firmly believe museum models and animatronics should be updated in museums every ten years. Not just being replaced because they are worn, or scientifically out of date but changed every 10 years to show the public that the museum cares about it’s exhibits. Engaging audiences in new ways through innovating their exhibits means a museum can stay ahead of other museums and gain more tourists.
I think the two animatronics that irked me the most were the two Deinonychus animatronics which have both been fitted with odd looking feather suits. I remember these animatronics from my previous visit to the Natural History Museum and that was over 18 years ago before they had these weird costumes. Not only do these animatronics look rather jerky in their movement (due to their age), but the feather suits themselves don’t look good at all. You can see in the below image that they have just been put over the animatronics.
Why not get some new animatronics made? With actual feathers attached to the limbs and body properly? Also why not make the feathers a bit more colourful?
We know that some theropods like Deinonychus for instance were feathered and I get the message that the museum is trying to convey (which is a very important one) but these animatronics are over a decade old which have been retrofitted to supply a notion different to what they were originally designed for. The feather suit costumes are a cheap way to get across an important message about feathered dinosaurs and to me it just doesn’t come across that well.
What does the Natural History Museum need to do more of?
So in conclusion I think the Natural History Museums dinosaur exhibits are great but seem to be generally hit and miss in terms of what they are trying to convey. The museum has clearly spent money on updating the touch screen/TV videos and technology for engagement and has incorporated new skeleton and fossil acquisitions into the dinosaur zone which is fantastic.
Although certain models and animatronics remain from pre 2000 and these need to be updated as soon as possible, as they look very dated. These are potentially hindering the museums message of being consistent with recent palaeontological discoveries and what we know about dinosaurs today. The Natural History Museum is not the only museum that has this problem, I have noticed it in other museums as well and it is somewhat disheartening to see. I get museums may not have the money but museums are supposed to be at the forefront of the latest information and scientific research and discoveries. If they are showcasing outdated models and animatronics what kind of message does that send to the public?
The fossils themselves were what impacted me the most and I came away from the experience happy and thrilled to have been able to see them. I also got some excellent photographs which I am hoping will be helpful in using on Jurassic Finds so I am very thankful for that.
Overall the Natural History Museum is a wonderful museum to visit. It offers so much not just to those interested in palaeontology but to those interested in science, geography, natural history and many more subjects. Hopefully the museum will continue to develop it’s exhibits more over the coming years helping to engage visitors in new and exciting ways. I was very happy with my visit and it is always great to reflect on what was seen, what could be made better and what made a lasting impression. I really enjoyed the experience of walking around the exhibits and taking in all that the museum had to offer.
I hope you have all enjoyed reading my thoughts on visiting the Natural History Museum. My next article on Jurassic Finds will be once again focusing on the latest fossil discoveries. Keep an eye on the blog for when it drops!